The Vanishing Box

by Elly Griffiths

In a nail-biting hunt for a missing loved one, DI Edgar Stephens and the magician Max Mephisto discover once again that the line between art, life, and death is all too easily blurred.

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544750517
  • ISBN-10: 0544750519
  • Pages: 368
  • Publication Date: 10/09/2018
  • Carton Quantity: 1

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    In a nail-biting hunt for a missing loved one, DI Edgar Stephens and the magician Max Mephisto discover once again that the line between art, life, and death is all too easily blurred. 


    It’s the holiday season, and Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby have landed a headlining gig at the Brighton Hippodrome, the biggest theater in the city, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savory supporting act: a tableau show of naked “living statues.” But when one of the girls goes missing and turns up dead not long after, Max and Ruby realize there’s something far more sinister than obscenity afoot in the theater. 


    DI Edgar Stephens is on the case. As he searches for the killer, he begins to suspect that her fatal vanishing act may well be related to another case, the death of a quiet local florist. But just as he’s narrowing in on the missing link, Ruby goes missing, and he and Max must team up once again to find her.

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    14 December 1953 




    It was like being in a forest of frozen women. Max walked across the stage and the girls didn’t move, not even a twitch of a hand or an intake of breath. It was an odd feeling, walking fully dressed between naked women, none of whom paid him the slightest bit of attention. Their eyes were fixed on the back of the stalls, teeth bared in smiles, arms – ­variously – uplifted or on hips, feet poised in that curious position that is meant to be flattering to the leg, one toe forward, calf swivelled. There was a cold wind blowing from the wings but, apart from acres of gooseflesh, the only effect was to ruffle the feathers on the skimpy flesh-coloured pants that were the girls’ only clothing. 


    ‘Didn’t I tell you?’ said Vic Cutler. ‘Didn’t I tell you that I had them well trained?’ 


    Max had once shared the bill with a lion tamer called Bill Tilsley who used to boast about his total control over the frankly sad and moth-eaten creature. Max had been quietly pleased when the animal had turned on Bill at the Embassy Theatre Skegness, almost ripping the trainer’s arm off. He supposed it probably too much to hope that one of the frozen girls would maul Vic Cutler. 


    He looked back at the girls. They all kept their positions, staring straight ahead. This was not only good training; it was imperative under the law. The Lord Chamberlain allowed naked women on stage, as long as they didn’t move. The idea was that the performers created ‘tableaux vivants’, living re-creations of famous paintings or classical statuary. The reality was that it was a rather sleazy way to allow people to stare at half-naked women. If Max had known that the bill at the Brighton Hippodrome featured a tableaux act, he might not have accepted the gig, but his agent Joe Passolini had conveniently forgotten to mention this fact. And now Vic Cutler was actually suggesting that Max should use some of ‘his’ girls in his act. 


    As Max was thinking of a way to word his refusal, he noticed a slight movement in the serried ranks. The girl on the far right of the front row lowered her false eyelashes in a wink. This was unnoticed by Vic who was still boasting about his troupe: ‘At the Windmill I had them all in togas with nothing underneath, tasteful, you know . . .’ Max smiled at the girl who smiled quickly back. She had one of the best figures – he couldn’t help noticing that – and was tall, with dark hair piled up on top of her head. She also had a proud way of standing that transcended her surroundings, the cold stage, the empty auditorium. You could almost believe that she was a classical statue come to life. 


    ‘I’m sorry,’ said Max, ‘it wouldn’t work. The girls would distract from the trick.’ 


    ‘I thought you wanted distraction,’ said Vic, his little eyes shrewd. ‘Misdirection and all that.’ 


    ‘There’s such a thing as too much misdirection,’ said Max. 


    ‘I heard you were doing the vanishing box,’ said Cutler. ‘You need a good girl for that. One of my girls could do it.’ 


    ‘I’m performing that trick with my daughter,’ said Max. ‘She’s a magician too, you know.’ 


    ‘The lovely Ruby,’ said Cutler. ‘I’ve heard that the two of you are going to have your own television show.’ 


    ‘That’s right,’ said Max, though his heart sank whenever he thought of Magician and Daughter. Joe kept telling him that the show would make Max a star, not seeming to realise that he had been a star now for more than two decades. 


    ‘I’ll let you get on with your rehearsal,’ said Max, preparing to take his leave. He didn’t want to stand around watching the girls form silent tableaux of the vestal virgins or Cleopatra’s handmaidens. 


    ‘Stay,’ said Vic Cutler expansively. ‘You’re welcome.’ 


    ‘No, I must be going. Good day, ladies.’ If he had been wearing his hat, he would have raised it. As he passed the girl in the front row she gave him a quick smile, but back in his dressing room, Max put his hand in his pocket and found a piece of paper. ‘Florence Jones’ it said, with a tele­phone number. Max was impressed. With sleight of hand like that, perhaps it was Florence who should be a magician. He smoothed out the paper and stayed looking at it for some time. 




    Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens was looking at a dead body. He had seen death before, of course, in the war as well as in his police work but there was something about this corpse that made it especially disturbing. 



  • Reviews
    "The fourth entry in the 'Magic Men' series (The Blood Card) presents a fascinating look behind the curtain of the 1950s showbiz as well as an engaging mystery, especially when DI Stephens and his sergeants are involved."—Library Journal 


    "The magic is stronger than ever when the brilliant cast of characters comes together again...has consistently been a thoroughly entertaining series."—Booklist 


    "Solid...Griffiths nicely evokes the post-WWII zeitgeist in Britain, incorporating details about hypocritical censorship laws and the theatrical lifestyle. Those who favor human intrigues over crime solving should find this a charming holiday read."—Publishers Weekly 


    “Griffiths’s idiosyncratic work has dealt with the collision of the ancient and the modern, and although her latest novel is set in a strikingly evoked Brighton of the early 1950s, we see things through Griffiths’s very modern sensibility . . . Griffiths herself dispenses several acts of prestidigitation, invigorating the shop-worn format of the police procedural with a piquant mixture of humor, period detail (including the church-baiting nude tableaux of the day, which play a key role in the narrative) and truly beguiling characterization.” — Financial Times 




    “Absorbing . . . Another great series.” — San Jose Mercury News 


    “Thoroughly enjoyable.” — Guardian 


    “Clever, immensely likeable.” — Wall Street Journal 


    “Enormously engaging.” — Daily Mail 


    “Original, lively, and gripping.” — Independent 


    “A wild ride full of mayhem, magic and murder.” — The Absolute 


    “Excellent . . . Evoking both the St. Mary Mead of Agatha Christie and the theater world of Ngaio Marsh.” — Booklist  


    “Suspenseful.” — Publishers Weekly